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My Semi-Sacred Planting Process

When I plant a new bud or seedling, or re-pot one of my more mature babies, I take a series of actions, and engage with a collection of tools and items. Each of these things, in their own way, are as precious as my indoor garden itself. The overall experience of planting is a sort of art; and like art, the magic is as much (or more?) in the process as it is in the results.

I begin by making the time.

Even though I’m a freelance worker with a flexible schedule, I still usually find the best time for a planting session is a slow, quiet weekend afternoon when there’s nothing to rush to or from, and nothing else in the moment making demands of my energy and attention.

It’s only when I sat down to write about this process that I became aware of how I choose which time is right for planting. In fact, some of my plants are currently long overdue for a freshy, and I haven’t tended to them properly because there haven’t been many slow, quiet weekends of late, and I just don’t see the point in cramming a re-potting session into my packed schedule. It wants to be a languorous affair.

Unlike other tasks around the house (doing the dishes, laundry, vacuuming) which deplete me, planting feeds me. Playing in a pile of dirt, tending to the little micro-needs of my living things, enhances that feeling of tranquility that an empty schedule can bestow.

Don’t be fooled. Tranquility doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a silent, tea-drinking affair. Silence is in short order in my urban zone, anyway. I’m as likely to crank some Beyonce, enjoy a cocktail, and have friends over while I plant as I am to listen to back episodes of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

I gather my plants & hatch a plan.

 If it’s the right season and a nice day, I might go into the communal courtyard of my building to work on a patio table. This involves the labor of lugging some rather large plants in and out of my apartment, down a corridor, and through a heavy door. So, more often than not, I do the job atop my battered dining table, or on my kitchen counter. I might cover the surface of my workspace first (with newspaper or a drop cloth). Then I make a plan for which plants will go into which pots.

There’s lots of pot-rotation in my house. A little guy goes into the middle-sized pot. The middle-sized guy goes into a new larger pot. New larger pots are practically a line item in my annual household budget, so frequently do these purchases occur.

I have some plants that have outgrown their pots, but I don’t want them to become any larger--space is limited in Brooklyn, and plants don’t pay rent--so I keep them stunted in too-small pots, and watch warily as their roots push up from below, and keep my fingers crossed that I’m not committing slow homicide.

I almost never re-pot just one plant. I wait till several are ready for an upgrade or refresh, or till I have several new pots awaiting their new residents, and make an afternoon of it.

When I’m sure that I have enough soil on hand, I feel ready to continue.

I ready myself & my work space.

 I’m almost as big on nail art as I am on planting, and I spend a lot of time doing my own nails, so I tend to don gloves to protect my manicure.

Also, if a task has an associated outfit, you can bet I’ll get in on that. Gloves are one of gardening’s greatest accessories.

I tend to wear jewelry, so I remove my rings and bracelets and put them in a safe place. I tie my hair back. I might put on an apron, or something I don’t mind getting dirty.

Finally, I’ll arrange my pots, soil, tools (a spade or small shovel), plant food, watering can, clippers, and chopsticks. Disposable chopsticks are my tool of choice for breaking up roots clotted with minerals, or soil caked into a clump. They’re an indispensable tool in my planting kit.

I plant & tidy up

 The act of repotting is its own process full of habit and ritual. The task of pulling a plant from one pot and setting it into a new pot with fresh soil is fairly straightforward. It requires a tender hand, some patience, and some care; but, it’s something anyone can do.

Repotting is messy business, especially in a small urban dwelling. It’s just something to live with. If you want plants, you might occasionally have to get soil on your countertops and floor. As with cooking, and other worthwhile activities, prep and cleanup are necessary parts of the process.

Enjoying my space

After a thorough session of repotting plants, a space changes. It’s a subtle and unobtrusive change, but it’s significant. My apartment tends to be feel brighter, refreshed. It’s an effect similar to rearranging the furniture, without the backache.

Once my plants are settled in their new healthy soil, with plenty of room to kick back, stretch their arms and roots, and grow into their next stage of life, I place all the pots in their new locations and give them each a bit of water. Then I’ll plant myself--smack in the middle of my living room to enjoy the feeling of wellness that happy plants can inject into a space.


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